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China's Diplomacy Must Seize Historic Moment
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By Fu Ying

China's diplomacy is now functioning in an environment very different from before.

Since the founding of New China, we have never been in such an important position as we enjoy today. Mao Zedong once said that the Chinese nation should strive for a footing among the world's forest of ethnic groups, a goal that energized Chinese diplomats for decades. Today we are not just any tree in the forest; we are growing into a great oak.

Yet this does not mean that we should go wherever our desire dictates. Although our economy and negotiating power are fast expanding, when calculated in per-capita terms, they are still very small. While our influence on the outside world is rising, so is our dependence.

China's economy is built on large imports and large exports, with foreign trade accounting for 10 percent of GDP in 1978, 30 percent in 1990 and 70 percent in 2004. The country houses half a million foreign-equity enterprises, including 400 multinational corporations, forming a network of manufacturing, sales and development that links China with the outside world. With large-scale movements in materials, funds, technologies and human resources, we are more sensitive than ever to international politics and market changes.

At the same time, our reliance on the outside world for strategic resources is also increasing. This includes 36 percent of our need for oil, 47 percent for iron ore and significant amount of our aluminium, copper, precious metals and wood. With the current stage of economic growth, these figures will continue to rise, and herein lies our potential vulnerability.

Of course dependence is mutual. The world economy has shown growing dependency on China and the Chinese market. Now, when people study global economic trends, they not only look at the United States, but also watch growth in China. In 2004, when Premier Wen Jiabao announced plans for macroeconomic adjustment, it sent shockwaves around the world. Even the international stock markets responded to the announcement. This is a sign of the increasing acknowledgement of China as an important economic entity, which some have termed a "wake up call" for the world economy.

On the other hand, we have become more sensitive to the stability of international political and security situations. The stability of the international market and the shipping lanes are also highly important to us. Each year we trade heavily with the world to a value exceeding US$1 trillion, most of which passes through the West Pacific shipping lanes. As time goes by, this issue will require more attention, and a greater need for co-operation with other countries. In 2004, China had a total of 29 million outbound travelers and 100 million inbound tourists. Such a huge flow of cross-border traffic demands a sound international environment.

Against such a background, China's diplomacy is faced with constantly evolving tasks, details and objectives. They call for the protection of regional and world peace, and the preservation of opportunity through maximum collaboration, following the direction of the Chinese leaders' statement that China pursues a foreign policy of peace, development and co-operation. This is a development and extension of the policy of independence, self-reliance and peace.

The report of the 16th National Congress of the Communist Party of China proclaimed that the first 20 years of the new century constitute an era of strategic opportunity for China, which we must grasp. The ninth section of the report, which dwells on foreign policy, alludes to "common development," "common promotion," "common interests," "common efforts," "common prosperity," "common consultation" and "common preservation." The seven mentions of "common" is a manifestation of China's emphasis on international co-operation.

The top priority for our national interests is to guarantee the strategic goals for the third step of our development plan: growing into xiaokang shehui (a moderately developed country) in the years of 2020-50, and fulfilling the mission of revitalizing the Chinese nation. Whilst we may have missed several important historic opportunities, we are now faced with a new opportunity that came only after generations of Chinese had fought hard with sweat and blood. To grasp this opportunity, we need not only diligence and hard work, but also cool-heads and intelligence.

China needs to maintain this opportunity. There are many external challenges, but the biggest challenges may lie with ourselves: to adapt to a new environment in the shortest possible time, and to accurately gauge and evaluate our own interests and make good use of our resources.

China's development is not only a major event for China, but is also unprecedented for the world. Western countries took about 200 years to industrialize, consumed a large amount of the world's resources and inflicted hardship upon many other countries. Yet their development resulted in the achievement of a modern lifestyle for only 500 million people. China will have a population of 1.5 billion people by mid-century. The impact on the world for such a mammoth process of industrialization, within such a short timeframe, is inconceivable. Therefore it is quite understandable that the world is watching China closely, and some even express concern over what China's development will mean to them.

The most important thing for China is to promote a more stable environment for co-operation so that we can grow. In other words, in addition to ensuring our own security, we need to take a step forward to create an external atmosphere and environment that is favorable for co-operation between us and other countries, rather than restriction or containment against us. We need to keep the world updated about our intentions, to advertise what is really going on in our country and let the world know us better and accept us. That is why we need to move to a more proactive diplomacy that involves taking more initiatives.

In the eyes of the world, China is no longer a remote, mysterious and backward country, but one that stands among the major powers and plays its own role. Will China be a constructive or destructive new member of the new order? That is a question raised by many countries. But we may also see that no country has so far formed a preconception, either positive or negative, about us. It will be very much our own attitude, our performance and what we make of this historic opportunity that will determine our future.

We now have more diplomatic resources at our disposal and we can do many things. For example, in the neighboring region, we have worked for and participated in multilateral co-operation, including East Asia co-operation, Shanghai Co-operation Organization and Korean Peninsula nuclear talks. We have worked to stabilize relations with the United States and other Western nations and provided more support to developing nations.

The author is China's ambassador to Australia. The article is an excerpt from her speech at Peking University.

(China Daily February 20, 2006)


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